Why Women? Why Movements?

Militarazation in Honduras

Women are on the forefront of change around the world.  Yet women’s rights are embattled and, in many places, the very safety of women activists is at risk.  JASS’ strategies equip these women and build their organizations so they can better navigate and challenge shifting political dynamics. By strengthening women’s collective organizing power, we help increase their political influence while ensuring their safety as activists as they advance rights and justice for everyone in a risky world.

Contexts Hazardous To Women

JASS works in very different places, that share certain common patterns and dynamics.

  • Global financial and economic crises continue to hurt women disproportionately, making basic survival and caring for family an all-consuming task.
  • Many governments, downsized and corrupted by vested interests and money, lack the capacity or political will to protect and uphold women’s rights. 
  • Violence increases, fed by a mix of poverty, paramilitary groups and armed gangs, organized crime, drug cartels, and military responses to growing insecurity.
  • Fundamentalist religious groups and extremists wield growing influence on society and policies, reversing gender equality gains and fueling intolerance.

The profound crisis of democratic institutions, a growing gap between the people and political institutions that claim to represent them, can be addressed by recognizing the new sources of power in society. Alejandro Bendaña, Director of the Center for International Studies, Managua, Nicaragua

Roll-Back of Rights, Shrinking Political Space

Worldwide, important policy gains achieved by women’s movements over the last three decades have provoked fierce and well-financed backlash. We see the visible signs of this everywhere we work, such as:   

  • reversals of reproductive rights in the Americas;  
  • controls on women’s freedoms under shari’ah in Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond;
  • women blamed for the spread of AIDS in Southern Africa;  and
  • increases in hate crimes against lesbians, transgender and gay activists everywhere;

The political space for citizens to make their voices heard and demand alternatives is also shrinking as governments seek hyper-militarized responses to insecurity. Yet, state investments in addressing poverty and injustice -- at the heart of insecurity – are wiped out by austerity agendas and continued demands for downsizing.  

I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult. Naomi Klein

Changing contexts, changing strategies

In today’s world, struggles for equality, justice and peace are as much about ideas, values, and whose voice counts as they are about access to and control over resources.  From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, citizens are mobilizing to make their voices heard. But among NGOs and donors, the continued emphasis on quick fixes and “magic bullets” ignore and fail to tackle the complex roots of inequality and contribute to the depoliticization of human rights and anti-poverty work. Many doing policy advocacy find themselves disconnected from the constituencies they are meant to serve. Competing for resources and visibility, social justice groups and women’s organizations become divided.

Worldwide, protests and revolutions demonstrate an increasing thirst for alternative strategies for engaging power.

Nevertheless, women continue on the frontlines of all justice struggles while working steadfastly to hold the line on women’s rights. New agendas and organizing are emerging on the margins and emboldening citizen groups. Youth, sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT) are challenging NGO ‘business as usual’. The Internet and social media amplify face-to-face mobilization, spreading fresh ideas and spurring debate. Everywhere, untapped opportunities for potential influence and connection among unlikely allies exist.  

These challenges and opportunities demand innovative and diverse leaders, multiple alliances, and flexible organization; they demand strategies that engage hearts and minds as well as formal political institutions and policy.  And with more economic and climate crises ahead, strategies to advance rights must connect to strategies that address urgent needs. This is exactly what JASS, with its many allies and friends, does.